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Posted on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

Toyota picks Ann Arbor from school districts nationwide to pilot new international program

By Danielle Arndt

Toyota Motor Corporation selected Ann Arbor Public Schools as the only district in the nation to pilot a new international, math- and science-focused program.

The partnership will give secondary teachers and administrators at AAPS access to global educational leaders in Singapore, the country currently at the forefront of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives.


Above is the Safety Testing Facility inside the Toyota Technical Center, located in Ann Arbor Township. Toyota recently selected Ann Arbor Public Schools to pilot a new leading-edge program in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction.

File photo | The Ann Arbor News

Teams of Ann Arbor’s staff who are integral to designing and implementing curriculum at AAPS will have two opportunities to travel to Singapore as soon as April 2013 and possibly next fall, said Superintendent Patricia Green.

The program will strive to bring Singapore’s successful instructional strategies back to Ann Arbor and, eventually, not only see measureable impacts of these techniques at AAPS, but spread these STEM strategies and initiatives nationwide, said Cynthia Mahalak.

Mahalak is the assistant manager of external affairs at the Toyota Technical Center, headquartered in Ann Arbor. The technical center is the research and development arm of the motor engineering and manufacturing corporation. Toyota also has a research and development offices in Saline, Plymouth and Livonia.

Mahalak said Toyota knows all too well the importance of developing today’s children into STEM experts.

On Wednesday, the company announced it is celebrating its 35th anniversary of being in Ann Arbor. She said earlier this year, Toyota also announced a desire to hire 250 scientists and engineers at its Ann Arbor and Saline offices within the next five years.

“Our missions are the same as your missions,” Mahalak told school board members and AAPS administrators Wednesday night at the board’s regular meeting. “…We want to increase students’ interests in pursuing engineering degrees.”

While Toyota did look for communities with strong ties to the company when selecting its single school district to pilot this program in, Mahalak said it also came down to finding a district already committed to international standards and one that had a rigorous STEM base to grow from.

“It’s good to hear this is something we’re good at but also could be better at,” said Trustee Glenn Nelson, thanking Mahalak for the opportunity.

Toyota’s pilot program with Ann Arbor will replace its former International Teacher Program. The teacher program was operated jointly with the Institute of International Education (IIE), which will be a partner in the new pilot program as well. The teacher program gave educators from across the U.S. the opportunity to travel overseas to Japan, Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and South America to learn about cutting-edge curricula on the environment and environmental challenges, Mahalak said.

Teachers had to apply individually to participate in this program and go through an interview process.

Toyota’s goal in launching this new program in Ann Arbor is to return to the areas of study that are Toyota’s expertise, its bread and butter. “And to see what impacts could be made in a single district,” Mahalak said.

Ann Arbor will incur none of the costs of implementing the program. Mahalak said Toyota is still in the information gathering phase, so she could not speculate on what Toyota or IIE’s financial commitment to the program will be.

Green said there is no end date to the program in sight and she hopes for a long-term partnership with the automotive giant.

Green dubbed the partnership a “phenomenal” opportunity for AAPS to follow its strategic plan and enhance its STEM curriculum “above and beyond,” by observing the “best practices” that the world’s leading school systems are imploring. It also will give high school students the opportunity to collaborate on projects with students overseas, she said.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

Now for AAPS to be truly tops? They need to cut spending in Balais and trim the fat. Then maybe AAPS will be taken seriously with this Toyota honor. Sorry, but this to me is a joke when teachers are being laid off because the BOE will not cut spending among their ranks. Children first.


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

Way to step up to the plate, Toyota! In addition to being so supportive of Science Olympiad, they now choose a meaningful and creative way to further bolster the Ann Arbor community (and beyond). Perhaps the other auto-makers might want to take note, rather than complaining about the lack of qualified engineers, etc., create programs within the community to eventually help alleviate the problem. Wouldn't it be nice to see the (former) big 3 establish some programs in Detroit, give back to the community that has provided so much to them, as well as give back a little in response to the taxpayers bailing you out? Hmmm ... it could go a long way in establishing some goodwill and legitimately helping a community that needs it.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Dear Toyota: Arigato gozaimashita [thank you very much]!!

Kai Petainen

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

wow! what an amazing opportunity... great stuff.

Linda Peck

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

This sounds like a great opportunity for Toyota and for the high school students in Ann Arbor. I wonder which schools will be included.

Sheila Parsons

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

BTW - this opportunity provided to Ann Arbor teachers makes me want to get back in the classroom!

Sheila Parsons

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

Danielle - just a note from a retired teacher and spelling enthusiast - the plural of curriculum is "curricula" - not curriculums. It is a Latin word.

Danielle Arndt

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

Thank you, it's been fixed.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

I thought that Ann Arbor schools were one of the World's leading schools? "Green dubbed the partnership a "phenomenal" opportunity for AAPS to follow its strategic plan and enhance its STEM curriculum "above and beyond," by observing the "best practices" that the world's leading school systems are imploring."


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 11:13 p.m.

Huron cam in at 20 and Pioneer came in at 19 in the nation. As for the world? I hear Canada takes top honor in that one. Next to Poland.

Rod Johnson

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

You did? What made you think that? Citation please.